December 18, 2013

Agony in Transition: From the Third to the First World

I'm a chronic culture swapper. Upon entering a new country and foreign language, a new mind space invades. This requires a bit of processing time. In the first couple of days after a culture switch, I find myself in a quiet phase. I keep my face in a computer to work or escape into a book during the shift. If I'm not with anyone from the previous location, I'll remain almost mute until the shock wears off.

My current shock is physical. It is the transition from third world to first world. I left one country with indoor temperature of 90°F with high humidity for another country that has air conditioning in every building. I have access to physical comfort and relearn what it is to have a body not in constant pain for weeks or months at a time.

The acceptance of pain and acknowledging that it is inevitable and cannot be avoided gives a feeling of power over the self. It is a feeling of overcoming emotions. This practice is fulfilling and strengthens long-term resolve. When the situation comes again, fear is not an issue because the mind is accustomed to being strong when the body feels weak.

The sudden shift is jarring. When the constant physical pain disappears, the pain must find a host. It is a cruel phantom that always claims victory. When the pain is denied of body, it seeks the mind. The void must be filled. The craving for stability must be sated.

A rush to the familiar is the most common result during the transition. Before other people are welcomed, I know that I require a quiet period. I find myself seeking solitude. This is my pattern upon major changes to my social situation.

What does the third to first world shift look like?

I see first world kids playing with the toys purchased by their parents in the lush public park. Whereas in my past location in the third world, the kids literally played with rocks out in the street. In my current first world locale, waste abounds. Unfinished food is thrown in the trash heap. In my last home, every morsel was consumed.

The first world food vendors provide more plastic waste than even I know what to do with. In my third world home, plastic bags for carrying food were sparse. The city dump is crawling with people looking for plastic to sell. Even tiny sums of money are valued. There is a social price for material wealth. In my first world location, there is a coldness in the people. Life is no longer a struggle. Modern luxuries abound. Comfort is pervasive.

Having just come from the third world, what do I see?

People from the first world lack soul. They don't seem to love as deeply or care as much. They seem more selfish and less aware of others. Smiles are not from the heart, but instead serve a utilitarian purpose. Without appreciation for the little things, the first world inhabitants turn their hamster wheels unaware of the meaninglessness of their lives.

The culture swap from the third to the first world unveils the first world emptiness that most hope never to see. The insight is only revealed through the pain of losing the humanity gained in the third world. I miss my pain.


  1. It's interesting that you see the first world as having no humanity. I don't have any opinion on that, as I have lived in the third world all my life. We as kids played with rocks, discarded bottles, empty cigarette boxes--what you will call trash--because we didn't have the nicer toys that rich kids have.

    Rich kids here DO have all the comforts of people in the first world; they have all the gadgets they want and they're not allowed to play on the streets. I wonder if you see them as having no humanity as well?

    Of course, in the Philippines, there's only a handful of rich people. Majority have to eke out a living day by day. The middle class--the employed ones--get taxed a lot while the rich ones (usually business people and professionals) earn much and may not pay as much in taxes (in terms of percentage). So the rich here only get richer.

  2. I see the first world people as being more cold and disconnected to each other. You
    lived in Europe, even if just for 70 days, so I'm curious how you felt in this matter.

    You mention rich kids in poor countries. My experience with the rich people in the your country is that they have the same soulful, bahala na, joyful attitude as the poor do.

    Your tax argument is silly. 90% of the taxes come from the rich people. Who cares if they pay only 10% of their salary instead of 30%, they still pay $20,000 per year in taxes, rather than the $500 that the poor person pays. Thinking that the rich should pay the same percentage as the poor is populist propaganda. Don't be brainwashed!

    It is just being greedy to try to steal more money from the successful. So what if Manny Pacquiao only paid $20 million in taxes last year. He was the highest tax payer in the Philippines for his big earning years. Why must the government freeze his bank accounts to bully more money out of him? He has worked hard to become a champion and has brought honor to the Philippines.

    The Philippine government should be ashamed of how they've treated him. This just incentivizes successful Filipinos to get citizenship elsewhere. Governments should celebrate national heroes, not use them as punching bags for political purposes. It's disgraceful!

    People need to stop focusing on others and focus on their growing their own businesses whether it is a sari sari store, a pigery or a falcata farm. They should read Candide, tend to their own garden and stop stomping on others' gardens. Pacquiao built a grand garden, hurting him only hurts the nation.

  3. This 17 minute video, "Paul Piff: Does Money Make You Mean?" describes a number of laboratory-type experiments in which the behaviors of "rich" and "poor" were observed to compare a variety of psychological traits. Much of what the writer presented above was borne in the first world environment. Piff discusses the effect of this on the future as the rich continue to get richer; and how their behavior can be modified to more closely mimic the characteristics demonstrated by those with less wealth.

  4. This rich vs poor inequality issue is seeing huge coverage all over the internet. I'm not in the top 1% but I have no sympathy for all of this whining. The increasing the minimum wage issue not only means that companies will have to fire more workers (increasing unemployment), but more importantly, it means that prices are higher for everyone. When gov't gives free money to people, it disincentivizes them to try to get new jobs or start businesses that provide value to society. Also, governments can spend their way to a high GDP and then say that the economy is doing well. Clearly, it's a horrible metric for proclaiming growth. Spending doesn't equate to value created for society.

  5. The previous commenter is really raising a different point. It may well be the case that raising the minimum wage is bad policy because it raises unemployment and it may also be the case that having more money makes you less sensitive to the feelings of others. Morality is not the province of government. There are three possible purposes of government: 1) protect citizens from the state of nature (the Hobbes purpose); 2) maximizing GDP (the Keynes or Friedman purpose, depending on your economic philosophy); and 3) maximizing equality (the Marx purpose). Whether #3 is a proper purpose of government is essentially the political issue in American today. Basically, liberals say yes and conservatives say no. I say no, but I recognize that this is an open issue, indeed the most important issue of our age.

  6. Of course the feeling of gaining wealth makes you less sensitive to others. Money is blinding because it is treated like a God... the most important thing, something to aspire towards, something ego-building.

    In terms of your three possible purposes of gov't: I actually think that the US gov't is (1) failing to protect people from the state of nature and is instead increasing danger in our lives by taking away the feeling of being free. Young people are more affected by this feeling than the old are. (2) Maximizing GDP does NOT improve people's lives. Look at the incredible gov't spending in China building empty cities and bridges to nowhere. Then 5 years later, they tear them down, and build anew. These projects increase GDP. (3) Obama has been awesome for corporatism. During his administration, equality has decreased.

    I believe that gov't has a bad history of providing value. I am a proponent of having experimental spaces for various gov't structures. That is, have the US gov't allow specific counties to opt out of the laws of the nation to create their own gov't structure. That way, people can choose where they want to live and have more options. States and cities simply create laws on top of the federal laws, this is not having options.

    I chose to opt out and leave the country as a personal political statement. I don't feel comfortable with the direction I see the US going. I see the writing on the wall and would rather leave before the shit hits the fan. I also get perspective being separated from the US. I still follow the changes happening, but I think I have access to a larger variety of sources outside of the US.